This post was originally published on August 24, 2007.
I realized after reading a recent post that I didn’t specifically address the question I posed in the title: what do I say to my gay friends? The answer is that I say the same thing to them that I say to any of my friends who have different morals or religious beliefs than I do: not much.
With my gay friends, the subject of my conversion hasn’t come up too often. The only change they might have noticed since I became “one of those Catholics that believes in all the rules and stuff” (as one acquaintance put it) is that I’m a better friend. I spend less time sharing juicy gossip and more time listening to what others have to say. I focus less on loudly making sure everyone is aware of how witty and interesting I am and focus more on showing genuine concern for what’s going on in my friend’s lives.
When spending time with friends or family who don’t share my religious beliefs, I remind myself that nobody was ever converted by being chastised about how wrong they are. The first thing I need to do is shut up and pray. I have the grand Creator of the universe on my side, who desperately wants all souls to know him, and he probably has a better plan for how to get his message across than I do.
The question, as I’ve come to see it, is not, “How can I show this person the error of her ways?”, but rather, “How can I focus more on the error of my ways, to conform myself more perfectly to the image of Christ? How can I do a better job of pushing my ego aside to allow people to see Christ through me?”
I should note that this is not always the way I’ve seen it. These are certainly not my original ideas here. My way of approaching evangelization used to be more like, “Boy, this is going to be a lot of work to show all these people how wrong they are! I’d better get started handing out the criticism!”
An analogy I often think of for how I used to handle pitching my newfound religion is that it was like I was describing the sun to someone who’d never seen it — while blocking out all the light and casting a shadow on them. I picture myself rambling a mile a minute, saying things like, “So the sun is this round fireball in the sky, all bright and kind of yellowish and stuff. You should see it, it’s beautiful. It’s sooooo warm, it feels so great when it shines on you. I mean, you’ve just got to feel this! There’s nothing better than basking in the warm glow of the sun!” while meanwhile the poor person is sitting in my shadow, unable to see the sun for himself because I’m in the way.
Luckily, God gave me a much-needed smack upside the head, and told me that I need to step aside. After a few painful lessons in humility, I got this wonderful advice from commentor Steve G. on the subject of evangelizing to others, based on his experience with his (formerly) agnostic wife.
Around the same time, I was reading Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer’s book The Gift of Faith and came across an interesting point about St. Francis. Francis of Assisi lived during a time when many people were losing faith, heresy was rampant across Europe, and there was widespread corruption in the Church. He almost single-handedly turned the tide for the better; but how? Not surprisingly, he didn’t use my old method of telling everyone how wrong they are. Fr. Dajczer writes:
Francis never criticized anybody. He believed that if evil is all around, it is he and not others who must first be converted. If such great abundance of wealth and debauchery is rife…then it is he who must become radically poor and pure. Saints differ from those who create heresies because heretics want to convert others but do not want to convert themselves, whereas saints turn all the cutting edges of criticism towards themselves, they strive to be converted so that the world can be better. […]
It was he, Francis, who had to be radically converted, and history proved that he was right. For when Francis was converted, when he became so ‘transparent’ to the Lord that the image of Christ could be reflected in him, Europe then began to heave itself up from its fall.
This insight was actually a huge weight off my shoulders. When I’d first realized that Christianity was true, I looked around at all the people I loved who rejected this religion as I once had, and felt great anxiety: how could I ever convert all these people? How could I show them the peace and beauty that they were missing? It felt overwhelming. So it was with great relief that I realized that it wasn’t my job to convert anyone: it’s God’s job. The best way I could possibly evangelize would be to let God work through me, to turn all my anxieties and frustrations over to him and focus all my energy on improving my prayer life and seeking deeper conversion for myself.
And so, rather than turning inward and asking myself, “What do I say to friends and family members who have totally different morals or beliefs than I do?”, I try to remember to turn to God instead, and to ask him, “How do I step out of the way? How can I set my pride and my selfishness aside? How can I let the world see not my shadow but your light?”
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